Autistic Children to Receive State-Funded Health Services

The B.C. Court of Appeal concluded on October 10, 2002 that autistic children affirmed their right to receive state-funded health services as treatment for the effects of autism and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD); Auton v. British Columbia. The judgment is intended to extend to all children with autism or ASD. The case called upon s. 1, 7 and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the ancient protective parens patriae jurisdiction of the courts and modern standards of child protection.

The provincial Crown had refused funding, stating that the treatment the petitioners sought for their children was experimental. The parents contended that the treatment—early intensive behavioural intervention—was the only treatment that held a reasonable prospect of a normal life for the infants. In the decision, the government will have to fund treatment dating back to July 26, 2002, and extending into the future so long as a general practitioner provides written opinion supported by a written opinion from a qualified paediatrician or psychologist that the treatment will continue to be beneficial.

This decision also offers a new perspective for constitutional remedy—in a case where the government does not comply with the court direction, the court may then take action against the public official(s) who by title and office are responsible for acting out the order.

Chris Hinkson, Q.C., of Harper Grey Easton in Vancouver, and Birgitta von Krosigk also in Vancouver represented the named infants and guardians. Lisa Mrozinski and Leah Greathead of the Attorney General, B.C., represented the respondents, the Attorney General of B.C. and the Medical Services Commission of B.C.